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Federal Vaccine Requirement to Impact 1 in 3 Maine Workers

The Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate will impact about 170,000 workers, approximately one-third of the state’s workforce, even though Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation.

(TNS) — The new federal push to vaccinate more Americans against COVID-19 has the potential to reach tens of thousands of Mainers, although the state already has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation.

President Biden announced Thursday a new federal rule that will require employees of companies with 100 or more workers get vaccinated or take weekly tests to determine if they have the virus. He also said that all federal employees will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, part of a half-dozen new efforts to stem the spread of the disease as new variants have emerged.

Many Maine employers already have encouraged their workers to get vaccinated — and about two-thirds of all Mainers have gotten at least one shot — but the new rule could be a final push that will lead some who have resisted or delayed to getting inoculated. About 170,000 Maine workers — roughly one-third of the state's workforce — work for companies with 100 or more employees, according to state data, and will be affected by the rule.

"While there is a small, vocal group pushing back, the data shows that these requirements do increase vaccinations," said Curtis Picard, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Maine.

"We all want this pandemic to be over and we will work with our large and small retailers to help them navigate these new requirements," he said.

Picard said the rules on vaccinations will gather headlines, but he also was encouraged by the decision to expand the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides long-term, low-cost loans to businesses hurt by the pandemic. Biden said Thursday that the limit on the loans will be increased from $500,000 to $2 million. The money can be used to hire and retain workers, buy inventory and equipment, and pay off higher interest debt.

The program is aimed largely at smaller businesses that have suffered setbacks during the pandemic, and federal officials said it will try to make sure the program reaches restaurants, hotels and gyms.

Hannaford, the largest supermarket chain in the state, pledged to cooperate fully with the new vaccination rules, spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said.

"We've encouraged our employees to get vaccinated," she said. "The landscape (on vaccinations) has been changing quickly and we have, from Day 1, followed the health guidance of all local, state and federal rules and laws."

Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research facility in Bar Harbor, already has been requiring unvaccinated workers to take regular COVID tests, said Christi Jensen, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit. That's another feature of the Biden plan for those who decline to get vaccinated.

She said Jackson Lab is creating a mandatory registry for employee vaccination status, recognizing that unvaccinated workers are the most vulnerable at the institution, but the lab acknowledges that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can transmit the delta variant that is fueling the surge in cases in Maine and nationwide.

Employees are provided with time off to get vaccinated, Jensen said, another feature of Biden's plan announced Thursday.

"Because work function, feasibility of execution and respect for personal boundaries must also be considered, any institutional action must always be a balance amongst all factors," she said in a statement.

The laboratory "will continue to strongly encourage that all employees get vaccinated," she said, and "closely monitor and adjust to the realities on the ground to protect our employees and our communities."

(c)2021 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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